Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Some students fret over the Science Reasoning section because the name seems to imply that we need to know a lot about current science theory in order to make "reasonable" conjectures. On the contrary, you should be glad to know that, aside from a very few terms, all of the information that you need in order to find correct answers is presented within the data sets themselves.

Your tasks for this 40 question section are threefold:
1) The first 2 questions in any group are DIRECT, asking whether you can read a chart or a graph or find a discrete piece of data within a paragraph. Your response should be a confident, "Sure."

Identify the key elements from the question, like a direction to look at a specific exhibit. Locate the labels of each axis on a graph or the column and row headings of a chart. Find the appropriate data and match it with the available alternatives.

Zero errors from this question type will give you a 14 point head start toward an average or higher score.

2) The next question or two are INDIRECT, asking how 2 or more snippets of data are related. You already know how to find the statistics, so now you just need to compare them. When one goes up, what does the other do? Sometimes there IS no relationship, although there is only a 25% chance that it is the correct answer if available.

Avoiding errors on this question type could result in another 10 to 14 points and you're well on your way to earning a score in the high 20's or even into the 30's.

3) EXTRAPOLATION questions are the "reasoning" part of the test and are usually the last one or 2 questions in any group. Using your skills in locating and comparing information, you now need to formalize your findings into something like a hypothesis so you can predict what would happen in a different, but related, situation.

-- ANSWER QUESTIONS WITHIN A DATA SET IN THE ORDER PRESENTED. Because you are using specific skills in an expanding manner, you will learn a little about the science concept while answering easier questions. This strategy allows you to build knowledge while making progress on questions and avoids the time-consuming attempt to fully understand the topic before trying to answer the questions.
-- TAKE NOTES. This can be as simple as circling important information, underlining rows in a chart, making tic marks alongside useful data, or drawing a grid on a graph. Designing your own personal note taking abbreviations can expedite the process. I use arrows, for example, to mark increasing and decreasing trends on a chart. If I can't draw a linear pattern, the correct answer to a comparison question is probably "there is no relationship."
-- BE CAREFUL ON SENTENCE COMPLETION QUESTIONS. The ACT is not compelled to put the subject of a question at the beginning of the sentence. Here are two formats of the same question:
Based on the information in Exhibit A, the sun's diameter, compared to Jupiter's, is...
Based on the information in Exhibit A, compared to the diameter of Jupiter, the sun's diameter is...
In the heat of exam battle it is easy to be misled by sentence structure, so I make a note that simplifies the question before looking at a comparison of the diameters: "Sun is." This allows me to circumvent the need to reread the question before verifying the alternative selection, avoids confusion, and saves time.
-- If pacing is an issue, SELECT THE ORDER IN WHICH TO APPROACH THE DATA SETS based on your knowledge of your own strengths. For example, if Differing Viewpoints is tough for you and likely to result in wasted minutes and few correct answers, think about holding that set for last and default any questions that you don't answer before time runs out. The object is to COLLECT POINTS and unless you're going for a nearly perfect score (which means you've been studying for weeks) you don't need to correctly answer every question.

STAY FOCUSED for just 35 more minutes. If you aren't taking the Writing section, time called on Science Reasoning means you're DONE. The ACT is over!

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